Maiden Voyage: the good, the bad & the ouch

Well… I *said* this would be a learning curve, but Oh My. I promised to be public about what I do and how it goes – including the bad – so here ya go. (Warning: contains sad news).

The good

  • I’ve started my journey, finally, and it’s already been an adventure… I’ve driven over 1500kms and I’ve barely even started.
  • The landscape has been stunning; I’ve seen kangaroos, wallabies, possums, kookaburras, emus, lizards, a scorpion and (I think?) a porcupine!
  • I’ve caught up with old friends and made new ones.
  • I’ve been given an awning from the gorgeous folks at Milkwood Permaculture Farm! Not only does that save me approx $2,500 it also means the oh-so-vital shade is closer than I’d thought (tho it currently takes up half the bed area until I can fit it onto the outside of the bus).
  • “Home, James” is an incredible size as living accommodation. I’ve stayed in a few campervans before, but when she’s finished she’ll be total luxury as a home.
  • It’s 2013! The biggest and most exciting year of my life!
my first trip route

my first trip route

The bad

  • Worst news first: You know that GORGEOUS paint job we just finished doing before xmas? Well… I’ve scraped her :( I’m heartbroken, ashamed and cross with myself. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but it happened on DAY THREE, ffs… far too soon. And it’s also pretty bad, there’s a decent dent and some of the paint work has gone back to metal. I would quite honestly have preferred to have done that kind of damage to my own skin than hers. I’ve spent the last few days feeling SHITTY about this, so much so I haven’t been able to say anything publicly until now. I let Jimmy (who sold her to me and helped me get her all gorgeous on the outside) know yesterday and am on my way to Sydney so I feel like I need to admit this before anyone else meets her. I know – and have been repetitively told (thanks guys) – that ‘shit happens’ and ‘it won’t be the last’ (!). I’m trying to feel better about it, but it’s not only really disappointing it’s severely knocked my confidence driving her. I’m was always nervous of driving such a big thing, but now I’m basically paranoid at every narrow track and turning. Buggerations :(
scrape :(

scrape :(

  • Secondly, I’ve owned old vehicles before (in fact I’ve never owned a new one); I know how you’re supposed to ease them in between owners. She’s been a school bus since 1994, only going reasonably short distances. My original plan was to take her out on some little trips around SA to learn how she drives and build her up to longhaul. But, because I’m an idiot, I got over-excited about my friend’s 40th birthday at their stunning permaculture farm near Mudgee in regional NSW. I was later than expected picking up the bus, and over-confident in thinking I could travel nearly 1500kms in 3 days (especially when the first one was only a short drive so I could set up home on New Year’s Eve). She drives beautifully, even though she’s a very old engine. She didn’t deserve to be thrashed about, driving 700-900kms a day, up/down extremely steep hills and along very windy, gritty tracks. She’s been guzzling oil and (since the temperature gauge doesn’t work!) I’m having to keep a very close eye on her coolant levels. Damn me and my overzealousness.
  • Thirdly, I spotted yesterday that one of the rear light covers has come off. I’m not sure when, maybe from all the bone-shaking tracks I was driving on this week, maybe I clipped something else that I didn’t even notice. Either way she looks pretty forlorn right now, as does her numpty-owner.

The lessons

  • My bus is a 22seater Toyota Coaster. It’s the biggest you can drive on a normal licence, providing her total weight stays below 4.5tonnes. I thought the bus drivers course/licence was too expensive and that I could get away without one. This was a serious false economy. In retrospect it seems so obvious, but learning to drive a bus properly would have been a really bloody good idea.
  • Make sure you have a seriously smart & generous support network. I have fortunately had this and have been making very good use of them. When I have had electricity (which isn’t often) I’ve been able to bleat my concerns and get serious advice from Kim Hawtin (of Adelaide Techmeet) and Andrew Lamb & Caswal Parker (whom I first met on a crowdfunding panel at Freeplay Independent Games Festival because they made a game about engines called “Automation“). I’ve also been able to query Hackerspace Adelaide about my issues with a 24v-12v converter (more on that another time). Thank fuck for all of them!
  • Give yourself time. We are both old ladies, this bus & me. Driving 700-900kms a day is far too stressful for both of us; I need to build in time for several days of 300/400kms instead.
  • Given I’m attempting to go for free parking wherever possible, I need to spend time planning where I’m going and arrive early enough that there be a space available. The old-school Fee ‘head off whenever and see what happens when I get there’ really isn’t smart anymore. I haven’t got myself into trouble, but I can see that I easily could, especially in busy holiday seasons & considering tricky manoeuvring is tricky!
  • I really really need my solar rig. I brought my cig lighter-usb dongle, thinking that’d give me enough power to charge my phone, at least. But I forgot I’m on a 24v system. I bought a 12-24v converter, but it’s seemingly not happy with my phone, so until I find a hack I’ve got no power unless I charge up at places I stop over (another reason for not driving all day – makes it hard to find time to stop for several hours to charge things).
  • One benefit of being forced offline is that it’s really good for me to be offline sometimes! I forget that disconnection is a choice. This is re-programming me to not check the phone every ten minutes (yes sometimes it’s that bad) to see if I have a new email/social message. This is great. But having a device for navigation and emergencies is also important, so there has to be a balance.

All in all, it’s been great. The scrape is gutting, the engine toll is slightly concerning, but the living space is awesome and the awning will only make that better. I am now taking the driving a lot slower and spending more time thinking about destinations in advance. Next stop = Sydney where I will be showing her off with slightly less pride than a week ago, but she will glow regardless. If any of you see her, please do me a vain favour and only take pics from the passenger door side??

Finally, some pretty photos

I posted my NYE location shots in the last post. Here are a couple of my fave other shots from the week so far… For more, follow me on Instagram, Flickr or Twitter

Scottish Thistle @Milkwood Farm

Scottish Thistle @Milkwood Farm


Home, James @Milkwood Farm

Home, James @Milkwood Farm

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